Four ways to see the best of paris – the west australian
The Louvre Pyramid after sunset. Picture: Stephen Scourfield
Stephen Scourfield recommends different styles to make the most of the romantic capital.
The late sun reflects off The Louvre Pyramid and glitters gold on the old palace’s windows. Paris. Do you dash around and do everything or have time to stay still and let it revolve around you? It prompts me to reflect on four different approaches …
PARIS REFLECTION 1
Do everything. Tick the Paris
List. Go to Notre Dame cathedral, mingle with the crowds under the Eiffel Tower (queue for lifts or stairs, and its new first level has a transparent floor), then do a River Seine sightseeing boat cruise. Get a one-day hop-on, hop-off bus ticket, and see 50 sights from the open-air top deck (bigbustours. com or hop-on-hop-off-bus. com, for example). Walk the embankment by the Seine. Go to the Moulin Rouge dinner show (moulinrouge. fr) . Go to the Bastille, the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe.
For a little Parisian shopping (or, at least, window shopping), wander down Rue de Rennes, Rue de Four then into Boulevard Saint-Germain, and the lovely backstreets there.
Go to The Louvre Museum (set your sights on Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Death of the Virgin by Caravaggio, the sculpture Rebellious Slave by Michelangelo, Venus de Milo — and, if there’s any sort of romantic in you, the sculpture Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova; the perfect romantic embrace in this romantic city).
D’Orsay Museum. Picture: Stephen Scourfield
Don’t miss the D’Orsay museum, just the other side of the Seine, which has mainly French art from 1848-1915: Cezanne, Degas, Duval, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Seurat, Gauguin and Van Gogh, who was his most prolific during 15 months at Arles in France. (The D’Orsay is my favourite.)
At many places, you’re going to have to be prepared to queue, or pay extra where you can to “skip the line”, the phrase to use in Paris. Paris is busy. People wait in queues — whether it’s to go inside Notre Dame cathedral or visit the Paris Catacombs, under the city and where more than 6 million people are buried. It seems this always has a big queue.
There are ways round this. They are called planning, commitment and money. Plan where you want to go, commit to the day and even time you are going to do it and consider paying extra to skip the queues. For individual “skip the line” tickets, it’s good to ask the concierge at big hotels. One trick with The Louvre, though, is to get there early and use the Porte des Lions, or Lions Gate, entrance.
Queue at the front of Notre Dame cathedral. Picture: Stephen Scourfield
A Paris Pass covers entry to more than 60 museums, art galleries and historic monuments in Paris and at some, such as The Louvre, it lets you pass the queues. It is $180 (€122 actually) for a two – day adult pass. There are other passes, such as City Discovery, which also allow you to “skip the line”. (See parispass. com and city-discovery. com.)
PARIS REFLECTION 2
Peel back the skin and see the next layer of Paris.
Look for themes: pick your interests. Following themes takes you deeper into a place, and off into peripheral vision; to places and thoughts you might otherwise have missed.
As just one example, use movies as prompts.
Watch Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (starring Owen Wilson) and visit the locations. It leads us to places just off the usual tourist track, including the Rodin Museum, which has the world’s biggest collection of French artist Auguste Rodin’s drawings and sculptures; then on to Musee des Arts Forains, the private collection of actor and antiques dealer Jean-Paul Favand; then out to Monet’s garden at Giverny (it’s easy to take a shuttle bus from Paris).
Dodge ‘em cars in Tuileries Garden by The Louvre Museum at night. Picture: Stephen Scourfield
I was going to suggest rounding one evening off by walking the embankment at D’Orsay, where there are bars and restaurants, art installations and lots of games to play — swing ball or shuttlecock, and board and family games on the tables. In August, it’s light until way after 9pm, and everyone goes out late and stays out late. Lovely on a warm, mellow summer evening.
Of course, Owen Wilson (Gil) and Rachel McAdams (Inez) walk the Quai de la Tournelle, a pretty cobbled road on the Seine’s south bank.
Another exercise: Watch the movie Marie Antoinette (with Kirsten Dunst), reliving the turquoise-silk French opulence of the Palace of Versailles in its heyday, then go out to the palace, a masterpiece of 18th century architecture and art set in 100ha of gardens.
Then do a French Revolution Walking Tour of Paris (for example, at city-discovery. com), which will visit the Bastille and other key sights. In all of this, the importance of the 1789 revolution, and the execution of Louis XVI and wife Marie Antoinette, can take on a real sense of life. It was a seminal moment. As Paris local Sabrina Parisot explains to me: “When they killed the king it meant they didn’t believe in God any more.” For the kings had been thought of as holy entities.
Then reflect upon the painting Liberty Leading the People, by Eugene Delacroix, in The Louvre.
PARIS REFLECTION 3
Just stay still and let Paris revolve around you for a whole day. Just do one thing really well. Here’s the suggestion …
Spend the whole day around The Louvre.
Let’s remember first that this huge building on the Right Bank of the Seine, between Tuileries Gardens and the Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois church, was not only a royal palace but the centre of power in France until Louis XIV moved to the Palace of Versailles in 1682. So you are not just visiting a gallery and museum but immersing yourself in the pre-revolution French palace experience.
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Tuileries gardens by The Louvre. Picture: Stephen Scourfield
Today The Louvre Museum contains 35,000 masterpieces. As you have the whole day, you have time to take a guided tour, or be guided by the museum’s expert curators and specialist lecturers on an audio tour. You can rent an audioguide at The Louvre, or download the Louvre Audio Guide app before you go.
OK. We’ve enjoyed the outside of the building, exhausted the inside, and ourselves.
Something to eat? There are 15 options for eating at The Louvre itself but perhaps, having had breakfast at somewhere authentic such as Louise Cafe (8 Rue Croix des Petits Champs), we might turn to Le Cafe Diane, in the Tuileries Gardens next to The Louvre (it has a view of the Eiffel Tower one way, The Louvre the other).
Better still, we’d settle down for at least a couple of hours with a baguette, some French cheese and a bottle of rosé wine — a simple yet almost spiritual combination for Parisians, Sabrina Parisot explains. We’d find a nice spot in the beautiful Tuileries Gardens and do what the locals do … spread it all out, lie back, relax, daydream. We’d read a book — and if you haven’t read the original story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by Victor Hugo (of Les Miserables fame), this may be the moment. Forget the film; this is accessible French literature, with a message.
And so, Paris revolves around us, rather than us spinning around within it.
Alexandre III bridge on River Seine by the D’Orsay embankment. Picture: Stephen Scourfield
As the light fades, we wander back over to The Louvre Pyramid, to watch gold bounce off it.
Watch the people. Watch the wedding couples being photographed. Watch the two young people lost in books. Watch the day playing out.
It’s quite dark now, so walk towards the lit-up Paris Eye ferris wheel. This takes you to the fair rides on the side of the park away from the Seine.
You don’t have to drive a dodgem car, or while around with the Pirates of the Caribbean, or catapult yourself in the air on a big sling but you can enjoy the lights, the movement, other people enjoying them.
We’ve watched the full day play out. Paris has revolved around us.
PARIS REFLECTION 4
If you’re not really a Big City Type, and don’t like big crowds and lots of people but still want to tick Paris off your list, consider this.
You spend a day and a night in Paris. You do a huge day — the hop-on, hop-off bus and Seine river cruise or river hop-on, hop-off boat giving you glimpses of most sights, and enough snaps to say you’ve been there. You stay out late, see the illuminations, eat outside at a cafe, exhaust yourselves …
Eiffel Tower viewed down Rue de Monttessy. Picture: Stephen Scourfield
Then get up early, go to Gare de Lyon station in Paris and catch the TGV high-speed train the two hours to Lyon.
There, 480,000 Lyonnaise, rather than 2.2 million Parisians, are waiting to share with you a pleasant, easily walkable, intimate French city experience.
Stephen Scourfield was in France as a guest of Avalon Waterways and Cathay Pacific.
Many Avalon Waterways’ French river cruises include Paris in the itinerary. The 11-day Provence and Burgundy cruise includes two nights at Pullman Montparnasse Hotel and various tours. avalonwaterways. com. au or 1300 230 234.